Inequality and iTunes

by on September 16, 2006 · 16 comments

So I’m having a party this evening, and while poking around the web, I discovered this tidbit: if you’ve got Airport Express, you can now play your music to multiple speakers. That means I can plug my laptop into the speakers into my bedroom, plug a second set of speakers into the Airport Express in my living room, and have perfectly synchronized music playing to both speakers simultaneously, filling the whole apartment with music.

The equipment needed to do this cost a grand total of about $200. Ten years ago, I’d guess the equipment required to do this would have cost thousands of dollars. Thirty years ago, home consumers probably couldn’t have gotten equivalent functionality at any price. The best you could have done would be to run wires through your ceiling, and even then, you would have been limited to playing records or casette tapes.

All of which is an excuse to link to my friend Will Wilkinson’s great article about inequality. Will points out that while monetary inequality is increasing, what we should be really worried about is material inequality–and by almost any measure, this has been rapidly decreasing. My $200 iTunes/Airport music setup has features that would have cost thousands of dollars a decade ago. In this sense, technological progress is the greatest egalitarian force the world has ever known. Although the financial gap between the rich and poor is growing, the gap in the material quality of life between rich and poor is shrinking, as more and more luxuries once available only to the rich become widely affordable to everyone.

Will puts all this much better than I can, so go read his article.

Update: I’ve got another story along the same vein: I’ve been to several weddings recently, and all of them have dispensed with DJs, using their iPods as electronic DJs. None of them has regretted it. Indeed, in at least one respect, the iPod is better: you get to decide exactly what’s on the playlist. No worrying about whether the DJ has good music taste, or whether your guests will request bad music. One more distinction between more-expensive and less-expensive weddings has been obliterated by technology.

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